So…You Want Your Events to Be Inclusive*
Compiled by Dr. Shanna K. Kattari
From the voices of community contributors
“When things are easy for you, try to stop and notice that, and think about people for whom the same thing might be stressful/scary/frustrating/hard/impossible. And then try to think about how to make the thing easier for those people/advocate for them.”– Ijeoma Oluo
Make sure to put as much accessibility info (including about accessible spaces, parking and transit, ASL/CART/Captioning, virtual attendance options, etc.) as possible on your materials.
Have someone as an accessibility contact where people can ask questions.
Ensure your flyers have image descriptions and use Alt Tags.
Ask for people’s pronouns (everyone’s! But don’t make it required) for name tags, table tents, etc. Actually include them on there.
Make sure all of your staff have pronouns on their actual name tags.
Ask for people’s names that they would like on their name tags. This may not match their legal names, or the names in your database. That is ok.
Have options such as Mx. or “no honorific” in your RSVP options.
Include a box for “access needs” at the bottom of all RSVPs.
Consider color coding badges are bigger events (red/yellow/green) for if people are comfortable with strangers coming up to them to speak. This can be collected during RSVPs, or offered as a colored dot during check in.
Ask for food related needs (allergies, kosher/Halal, etc.).
Chairs and Seating:
Make sure you offer a variety of seating options, including both with and without arms, for different weight capacities (or make sure they are ALL higher capacity), lower and higher heights. Yes, even if it is a meet and greet or cocktail hour. If at local venues, ensure seating is not all bar stools or booths.
Have chairs in the hallways if people might be waiting for the restroom, or having to be in line for an event. Having a place to sit down whenever is needed is crucial.
If possible, offer a space for standing and/or floor seating (with mats or cushions) for those whose bodies are more comfortable in those spaces.
Ensure that those using electric wheelchairs and power scooters can maneuver around your event easily and safely.
Wider aisles are better.
Similarly, consider reserving spaces for those who use service animals and/or access devices on the ends of aisles, and labeling them as such.
Don’t have your only wheelchair accessible seating at the back, and don’t have your only barrier free seating be for wheelchairs.
If people sit at the back, do not tell them to move forward – they are making a choice that is the best for them.
Captions and ASL:
Always turn on captions on movies/videos/etc. being played.
If you are using Zoom, you should always use auto-captioning, at the very least. If you are in person, presenting via Powerpoint allows for captioning.
If you have an attendee requesting CART or ASL, make sure you know how to book that, and do so with plenty of time in advance.
ASL interpreters should be pinned to the main screen on Zoom, and placed prominently.
In person, seats should be reserved nearby for those who need the service, as well as for hard of hearing individuals who may prefer being up front.
ALWAYS use the microphone if presenting. Yes, even with just a few people. Even if people say they don’t need it. It is best practice, and people who need it may feel uncomfortable or shame for having to speak up and ask for it.
If you are doing audience Q&A, have a runner to bring the microphone to the askers (and ensure that they use it), rather than having people stand in line at microphones. Conversely, you can have people text questions in, place them in the chat, etc.
Make sure that the person responding to the questions reads the entire question (or states it out loud if the audience member chooses not to use the microphone) to ensure everyone is aware of the question.
Ensure your event is near wheelchair accessible restrooms, and that they are clearly labeled.
Similarly, if your event is not on the same floor as a gender inclusive restroom, label one of them as such for the purpose of the event.
The ability to safely use a restroom is a basic human right, and all of your guests, staff, etc., should be able to do so.
Ensure your events are not taking place during major religious holidays (in addition to Christmas and Easter, think the High Holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; Eid, etc.).
If you are going to have events during Passover, have non-leavened items, or have them after sundown during Ramadan so that people can eat.
Having vegetarian or vegan items can be a way for both people following these eating plans AND those who eat (not-strictly) kosher or Halal to find food that is safe for them. Offer kosher and Halal options to those who request them.
If possible, have events where children can attend.
If this isn’t feasible, offer affordable, on-site childcare.
Diversity of Events:
Having a variety of events (panels, discussions, meet and greets, sports events, attending galleries or theater, lectures, volunteer opportunities, etc.) will allow for different groups of people to participate in the ways most accessible and meaningful to them.
Diversity at Events:
Ensure that your speakers are not all cis het white non-disabled men. Don’t just have one “diverse” person, but rather, start by inviting people who don’t fit the traditional mold of academia.
Ensure your attendees are not all cis het white non-disabled men. Often, those who do not fall into this category may have less funds, or be seen as less “useful” in fundraising and development. Avoid playing into this trope.
Early mornings are hard, both for those with chronic fatigue/chronic pain, and those getting their kids settled in school or child care. For morning events, plan on starting at 10am at the earliest to be most accessible.
Lighting and Scents:
Try to avoid bright florescent lights as much as possible. Bring in lighting, or shut off partial lighting if need be.
If a light is flickering, ensure it is replaced or at least unscrewed/turned off before the event begins.
Encourage participants, presenters, and staff to be “low scent,” including not wearing perfume or cologne.
Don’t hold events in spaces recently under construction where there may be paint fumes, carpet glue scent, etc.
Do not just say whose land you are on, though that is important as well. Rather, make sure you name the work you are doing to elevate indigenous voices, working to support Land Back or Real Rent efforts, etc.
Food and Beverages:
Label food will all of the top 8 allergens (and make sure there is someone on hand with more ingredient knowledge if needed, or ask for ingredient lists from the caterer).
Use vendors who actually know how to make cross-contamination free gluten free and vegan foods. Ask for food allergies or needs with your RSVPs, if serving food.
Always have non-alcoholic drinks and non-caffeinated drinks available, and ideally more than just water.
If using a buffet, have space on the buffet for those who can only use one arm (cane users, those with limb differences, etc.) to put down their plate, and/or have people available to offer support as needed. Do NOT assume people need help; always ask.
Do NOT give food or alcohol away as prices, as it means some people won’t be able to enjoy them.
If straws are not automatically available, ensure they are available upon request for those who ask for them. Do not gatekeep.
If using compostable plates, make sure they are not made of wheat or corn (two common allergens that are often used in creating these), or have alternatives available.
Always have multiple ways to access information. For example, with handouts, have hard copies (including some with larger print) AND digital versions that can be sent out in advance of the event.
Use inclusive fonts (like Arial) and make sure everything is size 12 or larger. Bigger is better on Powerpoints, posters, etc.
With Powerpoints, use very dark on light backgrounds or very light on dark backgrounds for higher contrast. Make space at the bottom for captioning.
Make sure that all images in a presentation are described out loud, and that images on materials have an included image description.
General Access Tips:
Even if events are in person, have a live virtual option on Zoom for those who cannot attend in person for whatever reason, and do not ask them to prove why they need to access virtually.
Record events, if possible, to share with those who cannot attend as well as those who might not be able to process all of the information live.
Read out loud comments in the chat box.
During COVID, consider getting masks with panels for lip reading for presenters.
Make sure that not only is the space accessible for attendees, but also for presenters. If there is a podium, check to see if they’d like a chair with a lower podium. If there is a stage, ensure there is a ramp. Even one step can be a huge barrier.
Increase time between things, whether between a talk and a reception, or between two presentations. This allows people to process what they just experienced, reset, take a break, use the restroom, move their body, check on their loved ones, catch up on their meds, rehydrate, etc. Be clear how long the break is.
When working with outside vendors, ensure they are in alignment with your accessibility and inclusivity processes.
Ask people about things before it is too late to make changes. Having people you can talk to about events (including a diverse staff) will help make this smoother.
Consider creating an inclusion committee or group to ensure that all of your organizations’ events are inclusive, that way it does not fall on any one person.
*NOTE: This is NOT an exhaustive list. There are always more ways to learn and grow about being inclusive. Please use this as a starting point for your conversations.